12 Things People Do That Actually Mean ‘I’m a Highly Sensitive Person’

An HSP looks into the camera.

This article was originally published on Highly Sensitive Refuge, our community for HSPs.

Only 15 to 20 percent of the population are highly sensitive. That’s too many people for the trait to be considered a disorder. But it’s also too few people for it to be understood by the majority.

As a result, high sensitivity is often mistaken for something else entirely.

Sometimes it’s mislabeled as anxiety or depression. Or HSPs are dismissed as simply “too picky,” “too rigid,” or “too emotional.”

And those mistakes can be costly for highly sensitive people, who often benefit from learning about their trait — and the true root of their overstimulation and overwhelm.

Do you know what behaviors signal high sensitivity? Here are 12 things that people do that might actually mean “I’m an HSP.”

Things that Mean ‘I’m a Highly Sensitive Person’

1. Retreating into a quiet, darkened room alone

After a very busy day, you might find an HSP curled up in bed alone. Or hidden away in some other private, darkened space. Although some might mistake this behavior for depression or laziness, for the sensitive person, that’s probably not the case at all.

Biologically, HSPs are more sensitive to all types of stimulation. “Little” things that might not bother others can profoundly impact the HSP — from a tense conversation with a coworker to an outsized to-do list.

When overwhelm threatens, HSPs must remove some layers of stimulation in order to regain calm. Retreating into a private space accomplishes just that.

2. Zoning out in very busy environments

It might seem rude if someone is zoning out in a social setting. Or you might label that person as “lost in their head” or “a daydreamer.”

But HSPs might zone out for completely different reasons. Again, it comes down to stimulation. Bright lights and loud or repetitive noises, combined with the presence of many people, can be enough to overstimulate an HSP — making their mind check out.

3. Skipping the party — even if they’re an extrovert

Socializing can be fun and meaningful. But it can also be highly stimulating.

When you’re an HSP, there are times when you simply can’t deal with the added stimulation of social interaction. And this isn’t just true of highly sensitive introverts. Extroverts can be HSPs, too.

It’s not antisocial. And it’s not meant to be rude. The HSP is simply protecting their mental health.

4. Turning down invitations to busy, crowded places

Very busy or crowded bars, restaurants, outdoor festivals, concerts, parties, and malls can feel like an assault on the HSP’s senses. Someone who turns down an invitation to one of these places might be an HSP.

It’s probably not you, it’s them. They may genuinely enjoy your company but can’t stand the intensity of these places.

5. Avoiding certain shows, genres, and topics

HSPs have high levels of empathy and process information deeply. This creates a double whammy for them, especially when it comes to things they read, watch, or hear. Seeing animal abuse in a movie — or simply talking about the topic — might be too much for the sensitive person.

When they change the topic or stop watching, don’t see it as them coldly turning away. On the contrary, they’re feeling it toodeeply.

6. Asking the big questions

As children, HSPs are always asking questions — the bigquestions. Why is something the way it is? What’s the point of this or that? Wise beyond their years, they think deeply about their world and the meaning behind things.

As adults, this tendency doesn’t go away. HSPs ponder the meaning of life, death, and everything in between on a regular basis.

7. Avoiding prolonged contact with certain people

HSPs tend to be very selective about who they spend their time with. It’s not that they think they’re superior to other people. Rather, they easily pick up on the “vibes” or “energy” of others — whether it’s positive or negative, toxic or healthy, selfless or self-centered. And they not only pick upon those vibes, but they also tend to absorb the moods and emotional states of the people around them.

Being with the right person can make them soar. But being around the wrong people can leave them depressed, aching, and stressed. For HSPs, the moods of the people around them matter just as much — and sometimes more so — than their own.

8. Having strong emotional reactions and crying easily

Yes, HSPs tend to have strong emotional reactions — both positive and negative — and they may cry more easily than others.

And once they get worked up, it might be harder for them than others to calm down. Simply shrugging off criticism or a mean comment usually isn’t an option. Because of their depth of processing, “letting it go” takes time.

But don’t consider this to be overreacting. Nor is it “weak” or “hyper emotional.” It’s simply part of the whole package of being an HSP. They feel both the good and the bad deeply.

9. Becoming “flooded”

Flooding” is the extremely uncomfortable feeling of being completely mentally and emotionally overwhelmed. If you’re having a hard time focusing, are suddenly feeling anxious or “overheated,” or your fight-or-flight response is kicking in, you’re probably experiencing flooding.

Although flooding can happen to anyone, HSPs are especially susceptible to it.

10. Overthinking

One of the negative side effects of processing things deeply is overthinking. It’s not uncommon for HSPs to get trapped in analysis paralysis or to be unable to shut their mind off after certain intense experiences.

11. Reading others well — and caring deeply

Insightful and perceptive, HSPs tend to read others like an open book. Sometimes they know how someone is feeling before that person even realizes it themselves! Because of this, they often know exactly when they’ve hurt or disappointed someone. So they may work hard to be considerate and conscientious of others — sometimes even when it comes at a cost to them.

12. Needing extra sleep and self-care

Processing stimulation deeply gets exhausting. That’s why HSPs tend to need extra sleep, downtime, and self-care. Again, it’s not laziness or selfishness. It’s simply what HSPs need to function at their best in the world.

Check out these other posts on Highly Sensitive Refuge:

Did you enjoy this article? Sign up for our newsletters to get more stories like this.

Jenn Granneman is the founder of IntrovertDear.com and the author of The Secret Lives of Introverts: Inside Our Hidden World. She also cohosts The Introvert, Dear Podcast and blogs for Psychology Today. For most of her life, Jenn felt weird, different, and out of place because of her quiet ways. She writes about introversion because she doesn’t want other introverts to feel the way she did.